Read an Excerpt
“Give me a dozen of whatever you still have on hand,” a tall, dark-haired man in his thirties asked me curtly at my donut and coffee shop in April Springs, North Carolina. I’d aptly named the place Donut Hearts, since my name is Suzanne Hart, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else than in my shop, a reclaimed train depot on the edge of our small downtown business district. He added with a frown, “I don’t care what they are. Just make sure they’re loaded with icing.”
It was near closing time, and I wasn’t sure what I could give him, since even my glazed donut stock had been depleted at that time of day, but as I studied the case, I realized that Simon Henson had neglected to pick up his special order for the second time in a month. Simon always made a big fuss over my crullers, and the first time he’d ordered a dozen nearly drowning in icing, he’d paid for them in advance. The next time, he “forgot”—both to pay for and collect his order—and when he didn’t pick them up, I was stuck with his crullers and had to end up giving them away. I told Simon if it happened again, he was going to lose his ordering privileges, and he’d sworn that he’d remember the next time.
Only he hadn’t.
“Are crullers okay?” I asked.
“Let me see one.”
I held up an iced monstrosity and was afraid he’d back out of his offer, but instead, the man surprised me by saying, “Those are perfect.” I boxed a dozen crullers and put them on the counter, and he shoved a twenty across the counter toward me.
As I handed him his change, I said, “I hope you enjoy them. The icing might be a little much for most folks, but the crullers themselves are really good.”
“That doesn’t really matter. I’m not going to eat them,” he answered as he took the box and jammed his money into his front pocket.
That was certainly an odd response. “Do you mind if I ask you what you’re going to do with them, then?”
“Sure, why not? I’m going to throw them at the woman next door,” he said with a grim nod as he walked away.
That could only mean that he had a problem with Gabby Williams, and now I was going to be drawn into the middle of it, whether I liked it or not.
“Emma, cover the front,” I yelled out to my assistant in back as I raced outside after him.
I didn’t even wait to see if she’d heard me.
I hurried to Gabby’s shop and found my customer doing exactly what he’d threatened, throwing those heavily iced crullers at the door, window, and brick façade.
“Stop that,” I screamed as Gabby herself came barreling out of ReNEWed, her gently used clothing store that was beside Donut Hearts, barely missing getting pelted, as well.
“Not a chance until you admit what you did,” the man said as he hurled another cruller.
Gabby snapped, “Knock it off, Desmond Ray, or I’ll call the police.”
“Go ahead. Call them,” he said as he hit the door again. With the heavy icing, some of them hit, stuck for a moment, and then slid down the side of the building, while others seemed to explode on impact.
“Gabby, I had no idea what he was going to do with those,” I explained.
“I’ll deal with you later,” Gabby said as she glanced over at me for a bare second. When she turned back to the man, she said, “That’s it; I’ve had enough. I’m calling the cops.”
The threat didn’t even faze him. “Fine, go ahead. Then you can tell them how you stole from my aunt.”
That certainly got my attention. As a fellow shop owner, I knew how important our reputations were to us, and if this man was slandering Gabby, whether there was merit to his complaint or not, it could end up doing some real damage to her business.
Gabby put her cell phone back into her pocket and stepped between Desmond Ray and her shop. “I told you before; there wasn’t any cash or jewelry in your aunt’s coat when it arrived. I checked it thoroughly before I put it on sale.”
Desmond’s face reddened, and for a moment, the cruller missile pastry in his hand lowered slightly. “She told me she had ten thousand dollars stashed there, and don’t forget the diamond brooch.”
“Did she have the queen’s tiara tucked somewhere in there, as well?” Gabby asked. “The woman’s delusional, and we both know it.”
“Aunt Jean was positive about where she left the cash and the brooch,” Desmond replied.
“She might be, but she’s still wrong,” Gabby said.
“Are you calling her a liar?” The cruller rose again, and then left Desmond’s hand a moment later, shattering against the glass door, chunks of it flying through the air after the ricochet.
I was amazed by how calm Gabby seemed to be, though I had to believe she was seething inside. “I’m telling you, there was no cash in that coat, and certainly no brooch. I let you check the jacket yourself fifteen minutes ago. You saw that the pockets were empty.”
“After you cleaned them out,” Desmond said angrily.
There were still three or four crullers in the box, and while the man was distracted with Gabby’s replies, I grabbed it from him.
“Hey, those are mine,” he shouted as he tried to get them back.
I pulled a ten out of my pocket and threw it at him. “I’ve changed my mind. They aren’t for sale now. That should more than cover what’s left.”
Desmond gave me a look of icy evil, and then turned it toward Gabby. “I’m not going to forget this. You should know that I’m coming back. Both of you,” he said, and then stormed off.
I hated confrontations, and I could feel my knees go a little weak after Desmond was gone. “Wow, that was bad,” I said.
“It’s not the first time someone has accused me of acting unjustly.” She bent and began retrieving bits of crullers as she spoke. “Suzanne, please don’t just stand there; help me clean this mess up. After all, it’s as bad a reflection on you as it is on me.”
Not quite, I almost replied, and then decided to keep that particular thought to myself. While it was true that shattered crullers on the sidewalk and even sticking to the door and window weren’t the best advertisement for my business, having someone shout that Gabby was a thief was a thousand times worse for her.
As we worked at cleaning up the destroyed crullers, I said, “I didn’t know Jean Ray had a nephew. That is the ‘Jean’ he meant, right?”
“None other,” Gabby said. She made a face as she picked up a particularly mangled piece of cruller and dropped it into the box as though it were radioactive. “I knew she’d been slipping a little lately, but if you ask me, the old woman’s gone completely off the bend.”
That was odd. Jean came by my shop occasionally, and I’d never found her to be anything short of sharp and lucid, though she had to be approaching her eightieth birthday, if indeed it hadn’t already come and gone. “She seemed fine to me the last time I saw her,” I replied before my internal filter could stop me.
Gabby stopped what she was doing and looked hard at me. “Are you telling me that you actually believe that donut-throwing maniac?”
“No, ma’am,” I answered quickly. “I know what it’s like to be falsely accused. I’m on your side in all of this.”
Gabby seemed to consider that a moment, and then, to my relief, she nodded her acceptance of my explanation. Gabby Williams was not a woman I wanted to be feuding with, especially since my innocent crullers had been dragged into the fray purely by the sin of proximity.
We had nearly finished our cleanup when a squad car pulled up in front of Gabby’s shop, and our chief of police—and my mother’s current beau—Philip Martin got out.
“What seems to be the problem, ladies?” he asked.
I wasn’t about to say anything, but I was beginning to wonder if Gabby was going to respond at all when she finally said, “Everything’s fine here, Chief. There’s no need for you to get involved.”
I wasn’t sure the threats we’d both received qualified as everything being okay, but this was Gabby’s mess, and for once, I was thrilled that I wasn’t in the middle of a public confrontation.
“That’s not the way I heard it,” Chief Martin said as he hitched up his pants. It appeared that the man’s diet was still going strong. If he lost much more weight, the chief was going to have to get new uniforms instead of having his old ones taken in to fit his new, sleeker figure. I didn’t know how he was able to do it with all the home-cooked meals my mother had prepared for him over the past few months, but more power to him. I’d probably lose weight myself, if I could only figure out how to quit sampling the donuts I offered for sale.
“Who exactly has been speaking with you about my business?” Gabby asked, and I knew that the chief was on thin ice. No one, not even the police department, wanted to go toe-to-toe with Gabby, and that included Chief Martin.
He wasn’t thrilled by the conversation they were having, that much was clear, but the chief had a job to do, and I had to admire the way he took a deep breath, and then said, “Desmond Ray came by my office a few minutes ago. He claims you stole something from his aunt, so I need to hear all about it.”
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told him,” Gabby said. “Those coat pockets were empty, and Jean Ray is either lying or mistaken. Either situation is not my problem. Then again, she could be insane, and if that’s the case, it clearly runs in the family. I explained all of that to Desmond when he came by, and I thought it was resolved until the maniac returned and began throwing donuts at my shop.”
“Actually, they’re crullers,” I piped up.
Both Gabby and Chief Martin looked at me at the same time, as though I’d lost my mind by clarifying the distinction.
“Well, they’re not the same thing,” I explained.
The police chief shook his head, and then turned to Gabby. “Just to make Desmond happy, will you let me search your shop?”
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Gabby said. “Why should I allow you to paw through my things?”
“I can’t make you, at least without a warrant,” the chief said with a sigh, “but don’t you think it might look better to everyone if you cooperated with the investigation?”
Gabby frowned, and then looked at me. “Suzanne, what do you think I should do?”
I didn’t even hesitate. “If you don’t have anything to hide, you should let him look around. That’s what I would do.”
I saw the chief smile, but it started to fade when I added, “Don’t worry about your things getting mussed. We’re going to witness the search ourselves.”
Gabby nodded and turned back to him. “That’s the deal, then, take it or leave it. You may search my business, but Suzanne and I get to watch you do it.”
The police chief looked at me and frowned. “What’s the matter, Suzanne, don’t you trust me?”
“Chief, it’s not a matter of trust. I just want Gabby to be protected.”
He shrugged. “Suit yourself. You’re both free to watch.”
As Chief Martin reached for the radio on his belt, I asked, “Who are you calling?”
“We need to get this over with quickly, so I’m calling in for backup.” He hit the transmit button, and then called out, “Grant, I need you at ReNEWed, right now.”
I heard the officer reply in the affirmative, and I was glad the chief had called him. He was my favorite cop on the force, and often stopped in for donuts, both when on duty, and off.
When Officer Grant arrived two minutes later, he flashed me a quick grin, and then turned to his boss. “What can I do, Chief?”
“You can help me search this shop,” he said.
Grant nodded, and then asked, “Anything in particular we’re looking for?”
The chief nodded. “Ten grand in cash and a diamond brooch.”
“A what?” Officer Grant asked.
“It’s a pin,” Gabby explained curtly, “and don’t bother looking too hard; you’re not going to find it.”
Officer Grant clearly didn’t know how to respond to that.
After we all walked inside, the first thing the police chief asked to see was the safe.
“What makes you think I have one?” Gabby asked.
“I know you,” Chief Martin said. “You’re careful with your money, so you’re not about to leave it lying around. You’re too sensible for that.”
Gabby nodded. “I like to think so.”
As we all headed for the back, the police chief said, “Gabby, before we even open it, don’t try to tell me you’ve got ten thousand dollars on hand in your safe.”
She shook her head. “I wouldn’t dream of it. You should know, though, that I keep five thousand dollars in small bills on the premises at all times, and any jewelry I might take in to resell.” Before the police could ask any questions, Gabby continued, “There are a few rings, a necklace, and a small emerald pin there at the moment, but no diamond brooches.”
He’d whistled softly when he’d heard the amount of cash. “That’s a lot of money on hand for such a small shop, isn’t it?”
She explained, “Chief, I deal in a strictly cash business. I am constantly buying and selling items, so I need that size of reserve, but I won’t keep more than five thousand here on hand at any time.”
“You don’t mind if I confirm that myself, do you?” the chief asked.
“Be my guest,” Gabby said as she opened the safe, being careful so that none of us saw the combination. I envied her having a safe, not because of the steel, but because she actually needed one. The proceeds from a day selling donuts would fit into a shoe box, nothing nearly substantial enough to require a safe to store until I could make my deposit.
The chief looked inside, counted the money, inspected the jewelry, and then nodded. “Thanks. You can lock it back up.”
Officer Grant asked, “Does that mean we’re finished here?”
“Not a chance. We’re just getting started.” He turned to Gabby and said, “I’m sorry about this, but it’s going to take a while, and you’re going to have to close while we conduct our search.”
“If it will help clear my name, I’m more than willing to cooperate. Suzanne, would you help me with my sign up front?”
Why on earth did she need my assistance to lock the front door and hang a sign in the window? I wasn’t about to question her, though, so I followed her to the front. Was it my imagination, or did the chief continue to watch us as we made our way to the door?
“Thank you, Suzanne,” she said as she lightly touched my hand at the door.
She looked at me as though I were a little slow. “For being here so I don’t have to face this alone. I know folks around town have an image of a tough old broad when they think of me, but this is quite unnerving.”
“I’m glad I can help,” I said. “Do you need my sign? I have one that says BACK IN AN HOUR that I’d be glad to loan you.”
“I’m hoping they won’t be here that long,” she said, “but if they are, I’ll just set the hands on my BACK AT clock.”
She set the sign for 1:30, and then locked the door. As she did, I saw Emma hurrying up the street toward us.
“I need a second,” I told Gabby. “Would you mind letting me out?”
“Suzanne, you’re not deserting me, are you?” The look in her eyes was enough to tell me that she truly was unsettled by what was happening to her. Gabby was ordinarily the queen of her domain, and having the police rummage through her wares was bound to shake her up.
“I just need to tell Emma what’s going on,” I explained.
“You’re going to tell her the whole humiliating story, aren’t you?” Gabby asked.
“No, but I need to tell her why I just took off like that,” I said.
Gabby nodded, and then unlocked the door.
I opened it a crack as Emma stood on the other side.
“What’s going on, Suzanne? Why did you just disappear?”
“I’ll explain later, but do you mind closing up the shop for the day?”
She frowned. “I already did. It’s after twelve, after all. That’s okay, isn’t it?”
“It’s fine,” I said. “After you finish the dishes, don’t worry about sweeping the front or doing the deposit. I’ll take care of them myself later.”
“The floor’s already been swept, and the cash register report is on your desk,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind, but I wasn’t exactly sure when you were coming back.”
“You did perfect,” I said.
“Suzanne,” Gabby said beside me, “we need to get back.”
I nodded, and then turned back to my assistant. “Thanks, Emma. I’ve got to go.”
“Sure thing,” she said, as Gabby shut the door and locked it soundly. I could see the look of confusion on my assistant’s face, but I’d have to clarify it later. Right now, I had to help Gabby.
We were walking to the back of the store when I heard the police chief say aloud, “What’s this?”
Had he found something that he shouldn’t have? I couldn’t imagine what it might be, but I hoped that it wasn’t ten grand in cash, or worse yet, the diamond brooch the police were looking for.
We were having fun in the kitchen just before Christmas one year, and on a lark, I added whole eggnog instead of milk to the recipe. Wow, what a nice result. These are easily one of our favorite donuts to make these days when eggnog’s available in the store.
• 1 egg, beaten
• ½ cup sugar, white granulated
• ½ cup eggnog (whole milk can be substituted)
• 2 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (omit unless using milk instead of eggnog)
• 1½ cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
• Pinch of salt
This one’s easy! Mix the beaten egg, sugar, eggnog, and melted butter in one bowl, and in another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Slowly add the sifted ingredients to the wet mix just until it’s combined. Drop bits of dough using a small-sized cookie scoop (the size of your thumb, approximately). Fry in hot canola oil (360 to 370 degrees F) 1½ to 2 minutes, turning halfway through.
Yield: 12–16 donuts
Copyright © 2012 by Jessica Beck